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Rural Native American Students More Motivated, Study Finds

Positive changes in Native American students' motivation may be taking place in rural public high schools, according to a relatively new study published in the Journal of American Indian Education.

Researchers Patricia L. Hardre and Brian Lieuanan presented new information about rural Native American students in their 2010 study, "Motivational Characteristics of Native and Non-Native Students in Rural Public High Schools," that contrasts previous research and suggests changes may be happening. The study is available only by subscription.

One of the findings is that Native American students have a more positive motivational profile overall than their non-Native American classmates. Native American students reported higher goals and perceptions of positive peer influences in the classroom environment. Researchers noted that Native American reporting higher on future-oriented outcomes is different than in the past, and students' closer relationships with their teachers may be making a difference. Previous studies found distant relationships between Native American students and their teachers.

Researchers set out to answer three questions:
• Do Native American students present a different motivational profile, compared with non-Native American students in the same rural high schools and classes?
• Are there significant within-group differences on the motivational characteristics, such as by gender, subject area, and grade level?
• Are there important between-group patterns of relationships among these students' motivational characteristics?

The answers to all three were "yes." Native American rural students had a more homogeneous and positive profile than non-Native American students, and they had fewer differences on motivational characteristics by gender and subject area (although they tended to have a preference for math).

The study looked at 194 Native American students who participated in a three-year study of motivation in 10 rural communities from an unnamed Southwestern state, and it pulled 194 similar non-Native American students from those same schools for a comparison group. Students completed questionnaires on questions related to individual motivational characteristics.

Researchers used a volunteer sample that was relatively small and came from a single state. Given those factors, the study should be seen as exploratory, researchers said, but "it raises some important points and indicates questions for future, more focused study."

One of its new findings was that Native American students tended to favor math, which is known as a "culture-free" subject area. The study didn't examine why students were more attracted to math, but the greater motivation could have implications for high schools wanting to leverage that to their advantage, whether it's in offering more math courses or emphasizing math-related colleges or careers, according to the study.

Researchers pointed out early on that rural and Native American students often are marginalized in education research, and that research comparing the motivational characteristics of Native and non-Native American rural students is virtually nonexistent. They said motivation is important to school success, and that's shaped by a number of factors, such as family and community background, teachers, peers, and personal beliefs.

Based on these findings, researchers suggested future studies could look at rural Native American students compared with those in urban and suburban schools.

It's worth noting that Hardre, one of the study's authors, is of Blackfoot and Cherokee tribal heritage.

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